Do you know what’s in your food?

IMG_5282Fresh is best in my book – homegrown if possible, and home cooked if you have the time. I’m also a big fan of batch cooking and freezing when you can. Why? Because I know what’s gone into the food, how it’s been cooked, and therefore it’s down to me to make sure it’s healthy (or naughty if I so wish!).

 

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We’re lucky enough to have an allotment and space in our garden to grow our own fruit and vegetables, and my husband is extremely passionate (and good) at doing so. It means we know that the veg is fresh as soon as we use it, and can grow the stuff we know we’ll use. On the flip side, it also means we can have a glug of vegetables at any one time, and therefore batch-cooking is required. Yesterday I made 1.5 litres of tomato sauce for pasta dishes, and today tomato soup – using up some 2kg of tomatoes I had picked over the past five days. I find it quite therapeutic and satisfying to pick veg and cook with it, then  go to the freezer a few weeks later and use what I have made 🙂  I also know it hasn’t been packed full of sugar and other additives like some supermarket and branded versions.

I read an article at the weekend that highlighted the ‘age’ of some of our foods when we buy them from the supermarket, and I was so shocked! The piece appeared in The Sun newspaper (UK) on Saturday 22 July, and was a real eye-opener. It stated that bread could be 1 year old at purchase – which is really down to part-baked dough that is frozen – and that your tomatoes could be SIX WEEKS old because they have been stored at an optimal temperature. But the one I was really shocked at was potatoes – those roasties you tuck into with your Sunday dinner could be up to a YEAR OLD – because they have been treated with a preserving chemical, particularly at seasonal time to avoid shortages! And don’t get me started on ‘fresh fish’ – there’s a reason it can’t be frozen at home……

So for me, fresh is best, and batch-cooking when I can is the way forward. And the things we can’t grow? Some educated choices when shopping. Life is busy, and we all want convenience, but with good planning and a bit of effort I can be happy I know what’s on my plate.

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The perception people have of your life

Chatting with an old friend last week, she remarked how busy I always seemed to be and asked me how I managed to do so much fitness when I had two small children to look after full time. I found it such an odd comment as I had recently been moaning to my husband that I don’t feel like I am achieving anything daily and that some days were beginning to feel a little ‘groundhog’.

On further discussion, it became apparent that my social media profile was creating this image of my life – my personal accounts were posts and photos of my (frequent) running, fitness activities, love of fresh homegrown vegetables and healthy food. There is no mention of my children, my job, or the mundane aspects of my life.

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It got me thinking about how social media creates a picture of a person, which may be incredibly unbalanced. I choose to post about positive things that make me happy, not to moan or give too much detail away that I want to keep private. It therefore means that people have a certain perception of me and my life. It also means that I build a picture of others in my mind based on their own posts and profiles. So it’s all pretty ‘fake’ for want of a better word.

The danger I suppose, is when people take it all too seriously, and believe that the perfect life, body, happy ever after is out there, without any flaws, and therefore beat themselves up for not measuring up to it. We need to stop comparing ourselves to others and be happy in our own skin (that’s a whole other topic for a future post!), and realise that everything you see on social media should be taken with a pinch of salt.

I am busy, I do love my life and the people in it, and I love talking about health and fitness. My dream is to inspire people to make healthy choices, embrace fitness and look for the positives in situations. That’s why I post what I post. If I wanted to bore people senseless with talk about my love of organising my kitchen cupboards and painting the study then I’d post about that too (but I don’t!) 🙂

Be careful what you believe on social media……

Take a minute to think…

Stop

I’m getting ready to go out for a run followed by a game of netball. Normally I would have eaten my dinner around this time, but as I am exercising I have avoided eating, and may do so when I get home later (depending on the time). But for the last hour or so, I have been thinking about all the ‘snacks’ I could just have before I go, that wouldn’t affect my run or game – a biscuit, small piece of chocolate, slice of bread, fruit, the kids’ leftovers  – the list goes on. Anyway, this time I have been strong and managed to avoid it and made myself think about how I’d feel if I did eat something and then ran – and I would feel awful!

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This process made me think about how we quite often ‘just do’ things without even thinking about them – on autopilot – even if they make us feel bad. If we stop to think about what we’re doing (or what we’re about to eat and how it will make us feel), it may change the decision we make. I would have really enjoyed a piece of chocolate, or a biscuit, but I would have felt bloated, sluggish and slow later on. The fact that I was able to have that internal discussion with myself, and be strong enough not to eat, means that I have a better chance of success later, and also in the long run (not creating a snacking habit that will lead to weight issues or self-loathing).

In thinking about it a bit more, I realise that I could apply this to other decisions or actions I make in my daily life. When I start to feel down or stressed about something, I should stop and ask myself ‘why’ and if I can change it.

Why do we let ourselves make bad decisions, even when we know they are bad for us?

 

Dwelling on what we don’t have

We often go through life thinking about all the things we don’t have, dwelling on what could have been, or craving things we can’t have. It’s such a waste of time and energy, and we should really all be focused on what we have and be grateful for the good things and people in our lives.

dwellingIn the last couple of weeks I have found myself being envious of others’ lives and the things they are doing, the choices they are making and the outcomes these have resulted in. Not once did I sit and think that they may also be having the same thoughts about my life, because I do have a pretty good life. My wake-up call came last week when I caught up with an old friend. We had a good old-fashioned catch up on the phone for an hour or so (when was the last time you did that and didn’t have a long conversation over text?!), and shared our recent news. She recently received some great health news after a particularly tough time, and was making positive plans for her immediate future, and I am so proud of her, and extremely happy for her.

I talked about my big life changes that had happened over the last year and she was very happy for me, and talked about how amazing it all sounded. We talked about how we had let work get in the way of life in the past (we had worked closely together for a long time), and that once you had a chance to take a step back and look at things differently, it totally changes your perspective.

Focus-1It did get me thinking about how I naturally dwell on what I don’t have, can’t have, or have lost. And it made me realise I should focus on what I do have now, the opportunities I have available, and how I can realise those dreams. Quite often the things I don’t have but want have come from a lack of confidence in myself to just ‘do it’, and I need to ask myself whether I really want it – surely if I wanted it that badly, I would pluck up the courage and go for it?!! Dwelling just creates negative energy and drains the body. It will drag you down and avert your focus from the positive things in your life. It makes you miss out on what could be a happy moment!

So I’m getting in the zone – focusing on the good, forgetting what I can’t have (it’s not meant to be), grabbing some self confidence, talking about those dreams to others, and planning for the future.

Watch this space……

 

Run for your mental health!

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK this week, and there is a lot of coverage of mental health issues on the TV, radio and social media. One thing I have really noticed is the amount of people talking about how exercise can really help mental health issues.

running and mental healthI watched a documentary recently called ‘Mind over Marathon’ on the BBC which focused on a group of people with mental health issues, including OCD, anxiety, PTSD and depression. They signed up to a challenge to train for the London Marathon (which took place a couple of weeks ago), with the advice that something like this would be beneficial to their mental health. Supported by fitness trainers and trained mental health professionals, along with others who had themselves been successful in using exercise to cope with their own mental health issues, they embarked on a 20 week training plan. If you get a chance to watch it on BBC iplayer, it was a fascinating watch, and really cemented for me the whole link between exercise and mental health which I have long believed (see my previous blog on Exercise – the best medicine).

Anyway, what made me blog about this today? Well, I had a really positive experience with a run today which really had me buzzing. I woke up in a pretty rubbish mood to be honest and after a day off the healthy eating wagon yesterday, I felt quite sluggish. the last thing I wanted to do was go for a run. But my husband encouraged me and told me to ‘get out there as it would do me some good’ (he knows me so well!). I was about 400 metres into my run when it hit me – my mood lifted, I woke up to my surroundings (I was in the woods which is my favourite place to run), felt the sun on my face and felt the power of the fresh air in my lungs. I felt amazing – buzzing even, and it’s been a while since a felt a run do that much for me. I was raving about it when I got back home and it reminded me of the programme and a quote someone mentioned:

‘Running and mental health are really good companions’

Any form of exercise is good for you, both physically and mentally – you just need to get out there and do it. Running in particular, does not discriminate and is open to everyone. Anyone can run, just take it at your own pace and enjoy it – your mental health will definitely thank you for it!

 

Can you be big and fit?

I’ve just watched a really interesting interview with a lady called Louise Green who was talking about how society views larger people and automatically stereotypes them as ‘unfit’, and it really struck a chord with me.

womanonscale638x425Louise is a larger lady and was really interested in getting fit, and made herself go along to a class a number of years ago, but recalls feeling like she would be out of place, she would be the biggest, the slowest there, or that people would look at her and think she was in the wrong place. However, she stayed and enjoyed the feeling, and to cut a long story short, Louise is now a personal trainer and is helping others to enjoy fitness, even if they are not the stereotypical ‘small, fit size’. Louise is indeed herself ‘overweight’ but you can see that she is fit from the videos she promotes, and from the endurance activities she talked about.

The interview was really interesting and there was a lot of live comments from viewers who said you can’t be ‘fat and fit’ or ‘fat and healthy’ and there was some debate around whether promoting that it is OK to be overweight or obese was dangerous. I agree to some extent that telling people it is OK to be fat and unhealthy is not appropriate, but what Louise is saying, and I fully believe myself, is that you can be slightly overweight but have a healthy lifestyle, and be fit and enjoy exercise if you are a bit larger than average (what is average these days?!). The danger only comes if you believe that you can be overweight/obese without any thought or action with regard to your fitness and diet and that approach is healthy – that is not OK.
fit-and-fat-artI really liked the advice given in the interview, which is something I have been saying for years. I have struggled with my weight forever, and really given myself a hard time over the years. I am not a perfect size 10 – far from it. But I’ve learnt to love myself and accept my body, and be extremely proud of what it has achieved. I will never be that size 10 again (I was once), nor would I want to be. Yet I am physically fit, love exercise, am a qualified personal trainer and nutritional advisor. I’ve run a marathon, numerous half marathons and endurance races, I’ve climbed mountains, cycled from Edinburgh to Scotland in 5 days, lifted weights and pushed myself to my limits a lot over the years. But I also love my food and socialising. My philosophy has always been ‘everything in moderation’, and don’t deny yourself. Don’t focus on your weight or the scales but try and be healthy. Life is too short.

So yes, what Louise said is so right – move your body more, eat reasonably well as much as possible, and be positive rather than giving yourself a hard time. You can be bigger than average and fit – and most definitely enjoy exercise. I’ve just ordered Louise’s book too, and am really looking forward to reading it!

Mental health – getting rid of the stigma

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Mental health has been in the UK news a lot this
week, with many high profile people highlighting their own experiences or just outlining how important it is for us to talk about it. HRH Price Harry is one of these people and has talked openly about how he struggled for a few years after his mother’s death before taking advice and talking to a counsellor – which he said really helped. His brother, The Duke of Cambridge (HRH Prince William) has also highlighted the importance of talking about it – and issued a video with Lady Gaga.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry are spearheading a charity (Heads Together) campaign to end stigma around mental health. Heads Together aims to change the national conversation on mental health and wellbeing, and it looks like they are making great progress.

It’s great to see all this publicity about mental health, and I hope the message is getting out to people who suffer that it is perfectly normal, and that they need to open up and let someone know what they are going through – seek help. It’s something I am really passionate about, and am looking into becoming a counsellor and coach. There are so many different types of mental issues – PTSD, anxiety, extreme stress, depression to name a few – and people need to feel OK about saying they are experiencing it. Sometimes it is long term, other times it is related to a particular point in life e.g a bereavement, physical illness, or an experience.

mental-health-thumbnailWe’ve all seen or experienced mental health issues at some point, so it’s interesting that people still find it difficult to talk about it. I struggled after the sudden death of my Dad, and sought counselling which was extremely helpful for me. I have friends who have suffered or continue to suffer with PTSD, anxiety, bi-polar and schizophrenia. The more you look for examples in your life, the more there are – which means we all need to be aware of it, and more open about it and look for signs in others, so we can help.

Our mental health is just as important as our physical health, and if there is something wrong it impacts all parts of our lives. But it is treatable, and you can learn to live with it with coping mechanisms and medication if required. The first step though is to talk – tell someone how you feel, don’t be afraid of a reaction, or what people will think of you. Believe me, they will  be proud you are speaking up and keen to support you in whatever way they can. If you can get your mental health in a good place, it allows you to deal with everything else life throws at you.

Spring – the opportunity for a fresh approach

Here in the UK, the clocks went forward at the weekend, making it lighter in the evenings for a bit longer. Spring has finally sprung, we are enjoying some sunshine and warmer weather, and best of all, we are seeing flowers and plants bloom again. It’s just beautiful to be outdoors.

Whilst my favourite time of the year is  Autumn, as I love the colours and I am more of a cold air ‘wrap up warm’ kind of girl, I love the sense of opportunity and new beginnings that Spring brings. After a long Winter when many of us have spent a lot of time indoors, with shorter darker days and sometimes miserable weather, it’s a real treat to see the sun shining, trees budding and flowers blooming. It lifts your mood, instils a sense of anticipation and excitement, and generally makes you feel happy.

This time of year always makes me want to sort things out and clean up – I guess it’s a bit of ‘Spring cleaning’. It also makes me want to try new things and focus on what I can do to improve things. So I’ve been busy about the house painting, clearing and cleaning and having a good sort out has really made me feel good – almost cleansed!

springcleanfitness_headerAnd I’m taking a similar approach to myself – focusing on how I can improve my well being, health and general outlook. To do so, I’m cutting back on sugar and looking to up my running distances (and using my Garmin tracking app to give me stats and focus). And one more thing I’ve decided to do is to challenge myself by incorporating one body weight exercise a day to my routine for the whole of April – I’ve decided on press ups. I’m going to start with 10 a day and build it up each day. Small changes, one at a time.

Spring – it’s time to bloom and progress!

Your mind is your strongest ‘muscle’

The inner drive to want something is what initially motivates us to do something, and physical fitness or power plays a key part in getting us there. But it is your mind – your mental power – that will determine whether you make it there or not.

56553818297a453ffe25acfd36895a91Take a fitness challenge – like a race or an obstacle course, or climbing a mountain. You need to be physically fit to complete it, and most people will normally follow some kind of specific plan. But if you aren’t in the right place mentally, or can’t pull on your mental strength to get you through the tough parts, it can all fail at that point.
It’s so important to make sure you focus your training on the mental side as well as the physical. But how do you do that? A few things that work for me:

  • Recognise progress
    You need to see progress in your training, and remind yourself how far you have come each time. Give yourself that pat on the back for getting through a stage, and focus on the positive elements of your progress.
  • Identify the negatives
    Yes, look at the negatives, but focus on how you can learn from them and work out how to deal with it when it happens again.
  • Look out for the signs of your mental weakness
    Learn to notice the signs of when you are feeling mentally weak during your training, and think about how you overcame them – or how you can do in the future. This will help you in the hard moments of your challenge.
  • Talk to yourself
    Listen to that inner voice, and use it to its full effect. Tell yourself you are good, you can do this, and you will feel proud at the end. This really works! You can do it our loud if you really want to 🙂
  • Visualise the end
    This really works for me. During a tough moment in a run, or when I have climbed some tough mountains, I’ve visualised myself at the finish and thought about how I will feel. And I ask myself how disappointed I will feel if I don’t push on.

And finally – Dig Deep! When you start to feel the ‘pain’, dig deep and believe in yourself. you know you can do it. As my husband frequently tells me ‘It’s all in the mind’. And it can make or break your determination.

You are stronger than you think!

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Yesterday I ran a half marathon. This was something I had been training for over the last few months, covering some good distances and racking up the mileage. Despite this however, I really didn’t believe I would be able to complete the run without stopping, or in a decent time. I even had doubts on whether I would be able to finish.

This was all ridiculous, and I had to keep giving myself a good talking to at the start and throughout the run. Of course I could do it, and of course I would do it in a decent time, and I would be ecstatic at the end.

Strength and determination stem from mental willpower and belief in yourself, and quite often you are much stronger and capable than you think. This was definitely the case for me yesterday. Whilst I knew I had it in me to complete it, I did have to keep telling myself I was strong and I could do it, and I dug deep to get myself through it.

IMG_1617It’s achievements like this that make you stronger, more capable, and more aware of your own strength and ability. I finished that run with a sprint finish (I kid you not!), over taking a few people on the last 200 metres, and I felt fantastic – so proud of myself, and yet so surprised at my own ability. Others around me never doubted me and always believed I would do it

Yesterday proved to me that we have the strength inside ourselves to achieve whatever we want, to overcome those difficult situations, and to make yourself proud.

You are MUCH stronger than you think – just remember that!